Game Review: Alpha Protocol

Or “Why I Need to Stop Reading Game Reviews”.

I remember when this game first came out (way back in 2010) and it seemed like the ads for it were on all the time. It didn’t receive great reviews and it wasn’t high on my list of “must buy” games, so I decided to wait for a price drop before buying it.

Then Steam had it on sale for $5, so I figured “What the heck? It’s an Obsidian game. Obsidian does great RPGs,” and bought it.

The review sites can all STFU, because this game is awesome.

So, wait, before I get ahead of myself. What is Alpha Protocol about? Alpha Protocol is an espionage-themed RPG where you get to live out your fantasy of being an international superspy. You play as Mike Thorton, the newest member of a super top secret program known as Alpha Protocol (title drop!) which basically carries out covert operations while keeping the U.S. government’s hands clean. What starts as a simple mission to recover stolen missiles from terrorists in Saudi Arabia quickly becomes a complex web of conspiracies, deception, and betrayal.

Hey, it’s an espionage RPG, this is par for the course.

I don’t watch a whole lot of spy movies, but pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from a spy movie is in this game. There are “exotic” locales to visit (Rome, Taipei, Moscow, and Saudi Arabia), beautiful women to seduce (or not), a humble cabinet that transforms into a rack of weapons, and secrets, every character has a secret.

While you can’t change a lot about Mike’s appearance (usually a staple of Western RPGs) the game does accommodate a variety of play styles. You can choose three different archetypal builds: Soldier (combat specialist), Field agent (stealth) and Tech specialist (gadgets) as well as Freelancer (pick your own skills), Rookie (start off the game with no initial points with which to buy skills) and Veteran (beat the game as a Rookie, proficient in all three styles). The latter two have special dialogue options. For my first playthrough, I choose the stealth-focused field agent background.

You are also given a lot of opportunities to shape Mike’s personality. He can be aggressive (“Give me what I want or I’ll beat your head in.”), suave (sarcasticm snarky, smooth operator type), or professional, by-the-book. I chose to play a very suave character with occasional lapses into professionalism. Characters respond well to certain personality types and less so to others (and there might actually be times when you want someone to dislike you), for the most part, though, I tried to make as many friends as I could. One of my favourite aspects of the game was the “perks” system, which gives you bonuses for doing pretty much everything. Did you use all three responses in one conversation? There’s a perk for that. Have you hung up on people a lot? There’s a perk for that. Subdued a lot of enemies by non-lethal means? There’s a perk for that too. The game tracks a ridiculous amount of decisions, from what your character wears in certain missions to the status of some of your targets. Do you play a stealth-based character but are bad at being stealthy? Characters will comment on it. Has Mike’s personality changed over the course of the game? Characters will comment on it. Your decisions can have a significant impact on future missions (roughing up an informant in a previous mission can lead to there being more guards in a future mission, making friends with a gang can net you their help in another mission). Events that unfold at the beginning of the game can have a HUGE impact on the endgame. This is one game where your choices actually matter. There’s also no morality meter (given the subject matter, this is understandable), the game tracks your choices, but it doesn’t judge you for making them.

You’ll notice I didn’t say a lot about the combat, and that’s because combat is, well, pretty straightforward. I think some reviewers were expecting something a little more action-oriented and what they got was a spiritual successor to Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines, complete with a boss that is Bishop Vick levels of annoying. Combat can basically be summed up as “get behind cover and shoot until everyone stops moving. For the pacifists in the audience, there are a couple of non-lethal ways to defeat enemies (the game keeps track of “hospital bills” for non-lethal injuries and “orphans created” for kills. Some missions are slanted more towards stealth, combat, or gadgetry, but players who pay attention (and read the dossiers they acquire on characters) should have little trouble doing each mission their way. I should also note that upper level tiers for certain skills can utterly break the game. By the end of the third mission hub, I was running around taking down armed men in full view of other characters like the unholy offspring of the invisible man and the Roman goddess Laverna. It made fighting certain bosses ridiculously easy. The one thing I would have liked to see was a bit more variety in missions. There were some unique missions and a few missions that were completely dialogue-based, but I would have liked the opportunity to actually attend the party that my target was throwing and have to bluff my way around instead of standing outside with a sniper rifle that uploads images to my handler (it makes sense in context). Then again, I am heavily biased when it comes to “sneaking into a party” type levels, as in I really like them. One final note, if you’re playing on PC, you might want to use a gamepad instead of a mouse and keyboard. I was playing with a mouse and keyboard and everything went smoothly, but I have a feeling the game was optimized for a gamepad (HACKING MINIGAME! ARGH!).

Overall, this is a great game that has unfortunately panned by review sites for its simplistic combat and dated visuals. If you’ve ever wanted to be James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Jack Bauer, pick this game up, you won’t regret it.

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